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Ask the Health Insurance Expert

My company has open enrollment right now for health insurance. Is it always cheapest to buy insurance through work?

Not always. Sometimes an individual health insurance policy may be less expensive, especially if you're young and healthy.

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When you opt for health coverage through an employer's group health plan, you could face annual premium hikes, reductions to the amount of premium your employer is willing to pay, increases in your out-of-pocket expenses, such as larger deductibles or co-pays, and the possibility that you're paying for a lot of benefits you don't need. Group health plans that aren't self-insured by employers must abide by certain state health mandates, which can require coverage for a variety of conditions, such as autism and in vitro fertilization.

The downside of an individual insurance policy (one you buy on your own) is it might exclude health problems you have now, known as pre-existing conditions. Starting in 2014, under health care reform, individual plans sold through state health insurance exchanges -- one-stop shops for purchasing health insurance -- will not be able to exclude pre-existing conditions. (The federal government and states have set up high-risk health insurance pools for individuals who don't have insurance and can't get coverage through the individual health insurance market because of their health conditions. To be eligible, though, applicants must have been uninsured for six months.)

But if you're young and healthy, an individual health plan can provide big savings, and it can be customized to meet your health care needs. For instance, a single man buying individual insurance has no need for obstetrics coverage.

In additional, if you have to pay the premium for your dependents through your employer's group health plan, it might be worth getting insurance quotes to see what it would cost to cover them by purchasing individual health plans instead.

For more, see 6 health insurance myths.

Last updated: Jan. 1, 2011
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